Monday, February 28, 2011

Beach Mansion Bailouts in NC

Good call tying the construction of groins on the beach to a "bailout" of homeowners. If you're not aware, there is a bill in the NC legislature to loosen the state's decades-old restriction on shoreline structures. The partnership of the John Locke Foundation, a libertarian think-tank, with the NC Coastal Federation is a very interesting combination for sure. But certainly effective in this case.

Legislature should reject beach mansion bailouts in N.C.

From John Hood, president of the John Locke Foundation in Raleigh, and Todd Miller, executive director of the N.C. Coastal Federation, a non-profit dedicated to protecting the N.C. coast:
Our country's economic system is based on the belief that the free market is a lot smarter than any government program.

If you have a good idea and you think it will make money, you are welcome and encouraged to make a go of it.

But if your idea fails, you're not supposed to ask the government to bail you out.

That can be hard medicine to take, but it is the only way to prevent people from making more bad decisions and asking the government to bail them out too.

That's why taxpayers ought to be skeptical about a bill, Senate Bill 10, that is likely to come up in the N.C. Senate this week.

For years, our state has banned expensive structures on our beaches called groins. They are like jetties - big, usually built out of rock and on the beach for decades.

The folks who want to repeal the ban say groins are needed to protect private homes from erosion. Scientists and environmentalists say groins don't work and will hurt habitat and other parts of the environment, and could cause increased erosion on down-drift private property.

But everyone agrees groins are expensive. A state study put the price tag of building a groin at as much as $10.8 million. Regular maintenance and monitoring can cost as much as $2.25 million per year.

And for what? To protect a small number of investors - people who bought homes built on sand.

It's hard not to feel sympathy for folks who are trying to beat back the sea to save their beachfront homes. But it should not be the taxpayers' responsibility to bail them out.

But that is what a groin is - a multimillion-dollar bailout. Repealing the ban on groins will shift responsibility for a private sector economic decision - buying a home in a high-value but potentially risky area like the beachfront - to the public sector.

Think about it: What will happen if beachfront homeowners and builders know that the government can build a groin to protect their home in the event the sands start shifting the wrong way? You got it - they will keep building homes where they don't belong. And they will keep coming back to taxpayers to bail them out.

That is exactly what has happened in New Jersey, where the coastline is crowded with groins and other hard structures. Not surprisingly New Jersey also has one of the biggest shore-line "protection" budgets in the country - more than $25 million annually.

Taxpayers already pay millions to protect beachfront property. According to the N.C. Division of Water Resources, taxpayers have paid $85.9 million in local, state and federal funds to move sand on to N.C. beaches over the past 10 years - mostly to protect private property owners. We don't need to add to that bill by building groins, which also require regular beach "renourishment."

As the legislature debates the cost of groins, we hope the new Republican majorities in the legislature will see groins for what they are: a beach mansion bailout funded - now or in the future - with our tax dollars.

Choice comment from the site: "After 25 years of one of the most successful beach protection (and taxpayer protection) coastal management plans in any ocenfront state, no Democratic majority has successfully passed a bill to gut this plan, benefit the few at the expense of the many, and have the taxpayers pay for it...until this fleabitten dog of a bill. Even with the previous dominance of prominant and oft-maligned "down east" legislators such as Mark Basnight, our state's Democrats - those alleged "wasters of taxpayer money" - saw how wrong allowing groins and other "hardened" structures was from both an environmental and an economic standpoint. Sadly, it has taken a Republican majority to advance this bill to destroy our coastline and fleece the taxpayers. In fact, this represents a cornerstone of the "New Republican Agenda", which is a shame, really, considering that these "New Republicans" ran on the platform of not wasting tax dollars.

The bill does not explitly prohibit tax dollars from being used to build or maintain these groins, it does not establish enforceable standards for what would constitute "negative impacts", it does allow not one, not two, but three groins per inlet, and it does stand in opposition to the findings of just about every scientific expert on hydrology, geology, and shoreline management over the past 25 years.

Of course, these Republicans don't consider handing out tax dollars to their cronies and specia-interest buddies to be "wasting" those tax dollars; no, these Republicans see those tax dollars as important "gifts" to those who financed their campaigns.

That's not waste...that's theft.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Dealing with Storm Damage & Preparing for Sea Level Rise

Some people think nothing can be done about our original sin of building too close to the coast. They have an "oh-well" attitude and accept beachfill as a fact of life whether they like it or not.

Other people are visionaries. They see the future and they see value in protecting public resources for the lowest cost in the long run.

This is a great video about thinking ahead, working together, and preserving public resources at the lowest cost to taxpayers. Two things jump out at me about this video. They started in 1995! It took sixteen years to get to construction but it is doable. The other is that the engineered development (bike path) at the beach failed after three years.

More at and Paul Jenkin, featured in the video, also waged a ten year battle to remove the Matilija Dam thereby freeing the sand that would naturally feed the beaches. So he not only gave the beaches "Room to Move", he is going to provide them with sand as well.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Lessons from an Unlikely Place - the Passaic River

We are often asked about the alternatives to beachfill as if there really aren't any. In fact there are quite a few, and we've unexpectedly found many of them all in one place. The report of The Passaic River Flood Advisory Committee

Amazingly, piling mounds of material on the banks of the river is NOT one of their recommendations. Yet many of their findings would work equally well on the coast as alternatives to the dredge, dump, and fill regimes. Others of course are unique to this river system. The complete list is below with the points that apply to the coast in bold type.

The Advisory Commission's comprehensive plan recommends:
1) Expanding and expediting floodway buyouts, with State Blue Acres funds and FEMA funds.
2) Encouraging home elevation projects in flood prone areas if acquisition is not an option.
3) Buying undeveloped land for use as flood storage areas.
4) Improving operation of the Pompton Lakes dam floodgates.
5) Initiating de-snagging and shoal dredging efforts to facilitate improved river flows.
6) Removing feeder dams to offer flood relief to Pompton Lakes, Wayne and Pequannock.
7) State adoption of National Flood Insurance Program regulations to ensure state rules are consistent with local flood control ordinances, and eliminating the risk that FEMA could suspend its flood insurance program in New Jersey.
8) Expediting the DEP's permit process to let towns more quickly obtain permits to de-snag and remove river debris, repair retaining walls and remove shoals.
9) Improving effectiveness and efficiency of county and local emergency response plans.
10) Enhancing the Passaic River flood warning system.
11) Contracting with the National Weather Service to create inundation maps to provide critical information to enable quicker flood projections and greater storm preparedness.
12) Enhancing public involvement, information and outreach on flood issues.
13) Requesting a re-evaluation by the Army Corps of Engineers of the larger potential major engineering projects for long-term flood damage reduction.
14) Updating floodplain mapping to eliminate decades-old maps that do not include detailed modeling of floodplains.
15) Having towns in the Passaic River Basin pursue flood risk reduction changes to their master plans, zoning ordinances and flood prevention ordinances, to guide future development away from floodplains or prevent future development in these high risk flood-prone areas.

If these solutions are good enough for the State of NJ in the Passaic River Basin, why are they not even discussed for our beaches and coastlines? Quite the opposite is true in NJ. Development has gone wild following beach replenishment making the entire coast even more vulnerable.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Broad Beach - Boulders as Far as the Eye Can See

Last year, the homeowners at Broad Beach in Malibu, CA installed 1.1 mile rock revetment seawall on the public beach. I stopped by this past weekend to see how it's doing, and the results are not pretty. I happened to be there during an extremely low tide, so I could actually get down on a narrow stretch of sand. But it was very clear from the lack of any "dry" sand that during most of the tidal cycle there is literally no beach walk on.

Visit the "Save Broad Beach" page on Facebook to learn more and show your support for freeing this beach.